27 February 2018

How easy is it to amalgamate residential units in RBKC?

Housing and the need to build more homes is the name of the game for 2018. If the Department for Communities and Local Government’s recent name change to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government is not enough of a clue, then there was the Chancellor’s 50% increase in annual housing targets in the Autumn Budget.

If national and borough-level housing targets are to be met, we need not only to build new homes, but also maintain existing housing stock. This raises a question mark over the permissibility of the loss of residential units through amalgamation, a particularly topical issue in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (“RBKC”).

Up until August 2014, amalgamation resulting in the net loss of less than five residential units in RBKC was not development for which planning permission was required. In August 2014, however, the Council changed its view. Since then, amalgamations resulting in the loss of even a single residential unit (i.e. two flats into one) require planning permission. The change is a result of the Council’s growing concerns regarding its ability to meet its increased housing targets and desire to preserve a mix of unit sizes in the Borough.

The Council has been working on a new amalgamation policy to reflect its change in position. This resists amalgamation unless it only results in the net loss of one residential unit and the total floorspace of the new unit will be 170 sq m gross internal area (GIA) or less. As with current policy, any properties which are granted planning permission to amalgamate will then be subject to a legal agreement prohibiting further amalgamation.  The new policy is currently out for independent examination as part of the Council’s Local Plan Partial Review, and subject to that, is due to be adopted in Summer 2018.

In the interim, the Council’s planning policy is out of date. The case of R (on the application of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea) v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, David Reis, Gianna Tong [2016] EWHC 1785 (Admin) has confirmed it is lawful for the Council to rely on its analysis of the effect residential amalgamations are having on housing supply in the Borough to support its current position. However, the Council is continuing to lose amalgamation planning appeals. In the Planning Inspectorate’s opinion, the proposed amalgamations would not, based on current figures, unduly undermine the Council’s ability to meet its housing targets.

The result is that there is currently much confusion for developers proposing to amalgamate residential units in RBKC. If the updated five year housing land supply figures as part of the Council’s Local Plan Partial Review show, as anticipated, that the Council is unable to meet its increased housing targets, it is very likely the Council’s new amalgamation policy will be adopted. Time is running out, therefore, for those who want to take advantage of proposals being assessed against current housing figures and the favourable light in which Planning Inspectors have been determining recent appeals.  As such, for those with plans to amalgamate residential units in RBKC the time to act is now.

Alice is an associate in our Planning team.

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